Middle East

May 2, 2011

Various Thoughts on bin Laden

I've posted some additional thoughts on bin Laden's death.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:25 PM

August 24, 2010

Where's the Terrorists' Margin?

To the extent that "terrorism is the weapon of the marginalized," it's not the West doing the marginalization, but dictators and their ideology.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:39 AM

July 14, 2010

The Seamless Burka of Sharia

Moderate Islam does exist, but within individuals, and is susceptible to radicalization.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:34 PM

April 21, 2010

What Ed Has to Believe

Providence Journal columnist Ed Fitzpatrick thinks the healthcare legislation will surely do more good than the Iraq War. I disagree.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:14 AM

August 20, 2006

A Frightening Turn of Phrase

I fear that the sentiment that Greg Gerritt expresses in a letter to the Providence Journal is expanding at a deadly rate:

I have been disturbed for quite a while about the framing of the war on terrorism. To me the real danger is from the Texas fascists, not the Islamist fascists.

All we have to do, explains Gerritt, is to unilaterally disarm and then solve all of the world's problems (unintrusively, of course). Will such people learn their error when those Islamic fascists succeed in another major attack, or will they be too invested in the romance of the consequence-free rebellion?

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:18 AM

June 14, 2006

Me: The One the Only?

I'm surprised that nobody with NRO Corner posting access has challenged this assertion from John Derbyshire:

No American thought, in 2003, that 3+ years of major campaigning in Iraq, with 130,000+ troops continutously engaged, and a running total of 2,500 deaths after that 3+ years, was in our future. No American thought that. I am not speaking of the War on Terror—Rick Brookhiser was already telling me at about that time that he expected the WoT to go on for the rest of his lifetime. I'm talking about engagement in Iraq.

Perhaps "no American" specifically made such a prediction, but I'm sure a great many joined me, at the time, in thinking that routing a dictatorship, investigating and following the threads of a weapons program, squashing coddled local terrorists, and forming the country into a functional democracy would take more time to accomplish than, say, a bachelor's degree in political science. Had somebody asked me, back when the first bombs were dropped, whether 2006 would have brought "3+ years of major campaigning in Iraq, with 130,000+ troops continutously engaged, and a running total of 2,500 deaths after that 3+ years," I'd have replied that, in 2006, we'd be better able to tell whether such a litany had been necessary to accomplish our goals.

Perhaps in a world of weekly columns and churned-out books, 3+ years seems sufficient for circumstances to cycle several times over, but things appear to move at a much more gradual pace in the working world that I inhabit. For my carpentry job, I've been in the very same mansion's basement for 9+ months, now, and we're still not done with the renovations. I wouldn't venture to suggest how many times that duration it ought to take to renovate a country — ensuring that terrorists and dictators, rather than squeaks and rot, do not return rapidly — but anybody who is truly surprised that we're still plugging away at it a few years on isn't somebody I trust to offer opinions with any substantial perspective.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:43 PM | Comments (6)

March 4, 2005

Consequences Versus Costs and Difficulties

A word on this sentence from a recent New York Times editorial:

And for all the negative consequences that flowed from the American invasion of Iraq, there could have been no democratic elections there this January if Saddam Hussein had still been in power.

Perhaps it's a too-subtle languagey point, and I don't mean to belittle the experience of those who've suffered in ways related to U.S. actions in Iraq, but "consequences" strikes me as an odd word to use in that context. It may be that the resonance of the word relates to longstanding differences of opinion on the issue.

"Consequence" feels like it indicates a thereafter solidified state of affairs either tangential or subsequent to an objective; note the awkward "flowed from" phrase. An all-night bender could have the consequence of a lost job; the Ba'athists' invasion of Kuwait had the consequence of American military involvement. By contrast, when results are reasonably predictable and accepted, whether permanent or fixable, when striving for a particular goal, "difficulties" or "costs" would seem more appropriate. Freeing a nation of people can come at a great cost, but its consequences appear to be positive (i.e., the democracy domino effect).

Certainly perspective plays a role. For the family with a son or daughter KIA, his or her admirable decision to enter military service had horrible consequences (mixed with the positive, in the current case). But from the point of view of geopolitical analysis — which is what the Times is ostensibly offering — it would seem more appropriate (and quite different) to say that the removal of Saddam Hussein came at a cost, bringing democracy despite difficulties.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:31 AM | Comments (1)

February 11, 2005

Looking Away from the Threat

I had forgotten the anecdote that Jay Nordlinger reprints today, and since it ought not be forgotten, I rereprint it here (I don't think Mr. N will mind):

... I enrolled in the Near Eastern Studies Department at the University of Michigan, where I took several courses, including the Arabic language. The department was dominated by extremists. The graduate assistants, certainly, were Arabs to the "left" of the PLO, meaning, they took Arafat and Co. to be sell-outs, untrue to the cause. There was no discussion of the legitimacy of Israel: It wasn't discussable; Israel was illegitimate, and every worthy person knew it.

One day, we trooped into an auditorium to see a documentary on the conflict. I can't remember the name of the documentary or of the documentary-maker, but I can see her, and she was on hand to introduce her film and to take questions. The film featured mainly radical Palestinians talking about dismembering Israel.

During the Q&A, a middle-aged white woman — a little fat — raised her hand and asked the following question: "These were such extreme voices. You've made a wonderful film, but couldn't you have found some softer, more moderate voices?"

In the row in which I was sitting were several Arab students — older ones, graduate students — and one of them, in front of everybody, stood up and said words I will never forget. I won't forget the words, or his face, or his relatively quiet, determined tone. He said: "I will kill you." (This was directed at the woman who had asked the question.) His buddies got him to sit down.

But that's not the important part — what he said is not the important part. The important part is, no one said a word. No one reacted. We all sort of coughed, and looked away, nervously. We all pretended that what had just occurred had not, in fact, occurred — or that it was normal, acceptable. We simply ignored it.

The emphasis is his.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:12 AM

February 5, 2005

Studying the Socialist Ramifications of a Hammer Does Not a Carpenter Make

For a page layout that you may find easier to read, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.

Jonah Goldberg responds to some raving from Juan Cole (a professor handling the Middle East, don'cha know). Jonah quotes Cole's opening paragraph:

I think it is time to be frank about some things. Jonah Goldberg knows absolutely nothing about Iraq. I wonder if he has even ever read a single book on Iraq, much less written one. He knows no Arabic. He has never lived in an Arab country. He can't read Iraqi newspapers or those of Iraq's neighbors. He knows nothing whatsoever about Shiite Islam, the branch of the religion to which a majority of Iraqis adheres. Why should we pretend that Jonah Goldberg's opinion on the significance and nature of the elections in Iraq last Sunday matters? It does not.

More than discrediting Goldberg, Professor Cole has revealed a great deal not only about himself, but about the Left in general. One wonders how many intellectuals, some of them with tenure, have spent the past week festering because, for all of their degrees and language knowledge and books authored, right-wing simpletons are not only being proven right, but they're being proven to be on the right side of the issue.

The problem that so many intellectuals have — across the disciplines — is that they haven't been visiting and learning languages and writing books to understand their subjects, but to cram them into a Leftist worldview. Consequently, an understanding of human nature, which is available to all of us equally, trumps scholarly perambulation, and the "academic retreat into expertise," as Goldberg calls it, will become a retreat into obscurity and irrelevance when reality makes the people confident to laugh at the professors' credentialized bluster.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:24 AM | Comments (32)

January 30, 2005

A Reason for Celebration

Shortly after 9/11 — back when the discussion was still the amount of harm "U.S. sanctions" were doing to the people of Iraq — the urge to call local late-morning radio talk host Steve Kass in order to respond to another caller's comments proved too strong to resist.

Kass and I agreed that Saddam Hussein was the problem, but when I answered "get him out of there" to some question or other, Kass's response was, "Well..." A little over three year's later, and not only has that nigh unmentionable solution come to pass, but Iraq has moved on to the next step: elections.

With all of the shameful efforts among some in the West to wear down our resolve, it's easy to lose sight of reality in the political fog. Sometimes we reach moments, such as the victory and then elections in Afghanistan and the military victory in Iraq, that revive our belief that our nation is moving forward with the steps that need to be taken to address the linked threats of terrorism and Islamofascism.

The elections in Iraq today offered another such moment, and although we can be sure that the naysayers and anti-American zealots will continue in their efforts to foment an exhausting negativity, we can be very proud indeed of our countrymen who've risked so much to make the world a better place for all of us, of those leaders who've continued doing what's right even when it might not be what's easy, and of the Iraqis, themselves, for standing with us by standing up for themselves.

Over on Anchor Rising, I've marked the occasion by republishing a column of mine from December 2001 calling for Saddam Hussein's removal. A view that was then extreme has proven predictive, and I, for one, do not question that the world is better for it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:59 PM | Comments (2)

January 21, 2005

The Words We Need

Via Michelle Malkin, we find the following paragraph from Jihad Watch:

The Armanious family had inspired several Muslims to convert to Christianity — or thought they had. These converts were actually practicing taqiyya, or religious deception, pretending to be friends of these Christians in order to strengthen themselves against them, as in Qur'an 3:28: "Let believers not make friends with infidels in preference to the faithful -- he that does this has nothing to hope for from Allah -- except in self-defense."

The striking thing is that Muslims have a word to describe such deceit. As with so much in Islam, however, taqiyya is so mired in spin and sectarianism that well-meaning Westerners can be placated, even as extremists use the language of war. Reading the definition page for "taqiyya" on AnsweringIslam, a site for "Christian-Muslim Dialogue," one gets the sense that the practice of religious deception is restricted to Shi'a Muslims and is used only defensively and in extreme circumstances — "only when one fears for one's life, the lives of one's family members, or for the preservation of the faith." Look elsewhere, and it appears that the "preservation of the faith" clause stretches quite easily.

Cliff May has a Scripps Howard piece discussing "how effectively our enemies have learned to meld actions, words and images into weapons." In this, he includes such things as lies about Jews' culpability for everything and anything and the demoralizing images of hostages being beheaded. It would seem that there's another aspect, though, that turns the various subtexts of religious words into disorienting cover.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:41 PM

Leave Me a Gun and Go Get the Bastards

Citing Richard Clarke, of all people, John Derbyshire argues as follows:

In Clarke's prognostication, Al Qaeda launches a second wave of terrorist attacks on our home soil -- Las Vegas, theme parks, malls, big-city subways, cyberspace, etc. All this triggers a big withdrawal from Iraq. "The army was needed in the subways." Our Iraq effort dwindles to defense of some watchful enclaves. "Our goal now is just to prevent Iraq from becoming a series of terrorist training camps. If the new Iraqi army can't keep the peace among the factions, that's its problem."

If there is a new wave of terrorist attacks on our home ground, I think public opinion will indeed force something like this -- not Euro-style appeasement, but a retreat to a more defensive posture, with much less talk about "bringing democracy" and "helping the Iraqis" (and others).

This underestimates both Americans' tenacity and their intuitive understanding of how problems must be addressed. Without illusion that my inclinations are exactly those of my countrymen, I'd suggest that the slogan that would build after a second wave of terrorist attacks on our soil would be akin to the title of this post: "Leave Me a Gun and Go Get the Bastards."

Appeasement is only the full expression of a trait to which the bulk of Americans simply haven't succumbed, and that only lies as shallow waters for most of the rest: dependency. Americans aren't afraid to fend for themselves if need be. (Considering Derb's recent writings thereon, an interesting angle for further thought would be how this relates to different brands of Christianity.)

Subsequently in the Corner, Jonah Goldberg touched on the aspect of a second wave that Americans would intuitively understand:

Adams' warning about not going abroad in search of monsters to slay is not on point. The monsters came to us. The monsters are still coming to us. In a world which is much smaller and in which our economic interests (and citizens) are everywhere "abroad" really doesn't mean the same thing anymore.

I too hope there's a lot of realism under the rhetoric, but I for one am persuaded by the logic of the "drain the swamps" analogy.

The closeness of "over there" is the key point. It was one thing to concentrate on defending the home front when repelling the enemy meant sending them back overseas, not easily to return. But just as "'abroad' really doesn't mean the same thing" when it comes to our actions elsewhere, it doesn't mean the same thing in reference to the home base of our attackers. Far more likely, therefore, than Americans' yielding to liberals' siren call to close tightly our eyes and keep beneath the blankets would be increasing awareness that the comforts of modern life and the niceties of modern society must be put aside for a time.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:16 AM

January 12, 2005

Pro Forma WMD Commentary

I almost didn't mention an AP report titled "U.S. Ends Fruitless Iraq Weapons Hunt" — not because I'm inclined to hide it, but because there's almost no new value to it, as far as I can see. The only thing that I find notable is that the talking points of the other side haven't moved an inch (emphasis added):

"After a war that has consumed nearly two years and millions of dollars, and a war that has cost thousands of lives, no weapons of mass destruction have been found, nor has any evidence been uncovered that such weapons were moved to another country," Pelosi said in a written statement. "Not only was there not an imminent threat to the United States, the threat described in such alarmist tones by President Bush and the most senior members of his administration did not exist at all."

You can search this blog and/or Google for the words "imminent threat" for the relevant commentary, I guess.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:02 PM

October 29, 2004

al Qaeda's Campaign Consultants Must Be Furious

You'll have to take me at my word that I don't think it matters one way or another, but I'm not convinced that this is bin Laden. The nose is a little different (although the tape's blurry), but more strikingly, he looks too, well, bin Ladenesque. The guy's been in hiding for years, knowing that the United States is after him, knowing that we pulled Saddam from his rat hole, and he takes the precaution of what... growing his beard a bit and losing some weight? I'm not defending any heavily vested opinions, here, but al Qaeda's had an awfully long time to dig up a look-alike.

Whether it's bin Laden or not, though, al Qaeda's got a mixed message to resolve. After all, we Americans — quaking at the thrice-uttered "guilty" — are still absorbing this:

The magnitude and ferocity of what is coming your way will make you forget all about September 11th. ... After decades of American tyranny and oppression, now it's your turn to die. Allah willing, the streets of America will run red with blood, matching drop for drop the blood of America's victims," the man, calling himself "Azzam the American," says on the tape.

And now the head guy himself (or a reasonable facsimile) comes out of hiding with what sounds almost like an apology:

It never occurred to us that he, the commander in chief of the country, would leave 50,000 citizens in the two towers to face those horrors alone, because he thought listening to a child discussing her goats was more important. ...

I want to talk to you about the reasons behind these events. And yet I — and I'll be honest with you, that the moment that we took the decision — let me say to you that God only knows that we never thought about attacking the towers.

So are Americans all "guilty, guilty, guilty" and doomed to a bloody "magnitude and ferocity," or did 9/11 take more lives than intended because Bush forgot his superhero cape back at the ranch?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:02 PM | Comments (1)

October 18, 2004

Career Options: Terrorist or Puppy-Loving Philanthropist

Dennis Prager makes well a point that bears making and remaking:

[The Democrats] say this: There are far more terrorists in Iraq since the invasion, and, therefore, the invasion was a mistake.

Yet, in order to believe that the greater number of terrorists in Iraq means the invasion was a mistake, you have to believe one or both of the following -- that were it not for the invasion, the terrorists who are in Iraq would have been engaged in some peaceful work in some other country, or that they are newly minted terrorists who were perhaps selling shoes prior to the war in Iraq.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:56 PM | Comments (1)

October 11, 2004

More Chordal Changes on Iraq

Mark Shea points to a comment discussion on Amy Welborn's blog wherein a formerly staunch supporter of the war, Rod Dreher, admits the following:

I am deeply concerned over the conduct of the war, and the prospect that family members of mine might die for the illusion that Iraq can be democratic. This is not an abstract threat. I'm looking at the possibility that my brother in law, a National Guard officer who never, ever imagined he'd be ordered to go fight in the Middle East (because who on earth could have invented such a prospect?), might have to leave his wife and three kids ... and never come home. If I still believed that this was a cause worth shedding American blood for, that'd be one thing. But now I'm thinking that our men are dying for an unwinnable war. You cannot force liberal democracy on people who don't want it.

I long ago stopped following the internal debate about the war among Catholics for the simple reason that the heat that it created became unbearable. Even so, Rod's turnabout is a bit surprising. So surprising is it, in fact, that my first impulse is to wonder what the real cause might be: The direct threat to family, and the pressure that goes with that? The stress of being the lone voice on an editorial page that is generally hostile to his opinions? Still, the urge to wonder must remain just that, because I don't know Rod, and I won't guess at his motivations — conscious and subconscious.

Whatever the case, I thought I'd post my comment-box response on my own blog, because with school starting up again tomorrow, I have no idea when I'll manage to flesh it out more:

In a different way from Rod, I've taken an extended break from the internecine battles of the Catholic regions of the blogosphere. Unlike Rod, I don't offer my opinions for a living (yet). So (I say with tongue in cheek), I can only conclude that nobody with whom I sparred in my ostensible hubris a while back has been praying for me — that I'd put down the Kool-Aid (ugh, when will that meme die?) — because I'm still inclined to take up the same side. (Even if Rod Dreher is now on the other.)

I'm going to take this statement for a walk, tonight, to see whether I can wear it down to what's bugging me, but there's something in Rod's comment above that just doesn't sit right:

In retrospect, I wish I had paid more attention to the conservatives (hat tip: Al) who argued that getting mixed up in Iraq was bad for America because there was no way to impose our values on that Arab Islamic culture. ... Even though we didn't ultimately find WMDs, I still wouldn't have soured on the war if there were more evidence that the Bush team had had a more reasonable plan for winning the peace.

And throw this in, too:

One thing that I dislike about the president is how he never seems to be able to admit that he was mistaken about anything.

So what's the retrospective demand? That the President have had a reasonable, enumerated plan to do the impossible, and that he should admit that he didn't have one (or had the wrong one) and install another? The general spin has perhaps gotten a bit too wobbly for essences to be clear.

Sometimes plans have to be fluid, and under certain circumstances, it can be advisable for the leader of the effort not to lay out the steps in any particular direction too succinctly. It will also often be advisable merely to tweek the underlying plan without announcing that a mistake has been made. This will prove particularly true during an election season against a desperate opposing party for which no potential point of attack is apparently off the table (whether it be talking down the economy or distorting the war and belittling the allies).

Look, I don't have a window into the administration's thinking, but it seems to me that one can do as Rod has apparently done and conclude that "getting mixed up in Iraq was bad for America" — even though Rod acknowledges elsewhere that sanctions wouldn't have lasted, and Saddam was prepared to throw his WMD machinery into gear at first opportunity — and the administration won't admit that the plan that it didn't have isn't working in every specific. Or one can trust that not "getting mixed up in Iraq" was not an option that had many more years of viability and that the administration has attempted to take a reasonably fluid approach to accomplishing something that seems near impossible.

In line with all of the above, I would ask of those who aren't reflexively anti-war and/or anti-Bush what they could possibly be measuring against to suggest that the administration's approach is a failure. I don't see how one can simultaneously assess the goal to be too difficult to tackle and declare a particular strategy a failure (after less than two years).

(Sorry to write while thinking, as it were, but I'm beginning to feel as if I missed the Fox News report that Allah had engulfed Baghdad in an impenetrable fog or something.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:51 PM | Comments (7)

October 9, 2004

Weaponswise, Everything New Is Old Again

Adding Marc Comtois to my mental tally of bloggers who've noted the Duelfer report, I thought how much of an absence my own failure to do so must seem. The fact of the matter is that the whole thing just feels, well, old. In fact, rereading my piece on Tech Central Station — from January — I'm actually a bit surprised at how well it still stands up, including the political conclusion:

Whatever story emerges with time, only the constant misinterpretation of comments and redirection of emphasis -- the public's own failure of intelligence -- prevent the broad realization that we already know as much as we ever needed. Angry columnists and candidates may mock the President's explicit reference to "programs," but the existence of those programs is indeed the salient factor. We couldn't -- and still can't -- know the extent to which they were applied in Iraq… or elsewhere.

Patrick Sweeney adds a layer to the report's significance:

Hell will have frozen over before the Vatican realizes what a threat to the world the United Nations has been, is now, and could be.

Unaccountable bureaucrats, secrecy, and money changing hands: this is not bringing about the Kingdom of God but bringing about the culture of death.

Of course, it's not just the Vatican that invests undeserved faith in the U.N.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:12 AM

September 18, 2004

I See Your MP and Raise You a Marine

In a comment to my "Credibility Miser" post, Chris Allbritton writes:

You're right to take Chrenkoff -- and me -- with a grain of salt, but I think I and my sources are probably better positioned to know what's happening here than some guy reading press releases from CENTCOM.

Well, fair enough. Chris had reported on the frightening state of affairs in Iraq and reprinted a letter from a freelance writer turned Reservist MP. The truth of the matter is that I've seen many, many more first-hand accounts like that of a Marine Major whose letter Ed of Captain's Quarters reprints:

Boom, boom, just like that two major "hot spots" cool down in rapid succession. Does that mean that those towns are completely pacified? No. What it does mean is that we are learning how to do this the right way. The US commander in Samarra saw an opportunity and took it — probably the biggest victory of his military career and nary a shot was fired in anger. Things will still happen in those cities, and you can be sure that the bad guys really want to take them back. Those achievements, more than anything else in my opinion, account for the surge in violence in recent days — especially the violence directed at Iraqis by the insurgents. Both in Najaf and Samarra ordinary people stepped out and took sides with the Iraqi government against the insurgents, and the bad guys are hopping mad. They are trying to instill fear once again. The worst thing we could do now is pull back and let that scum back into people's homes and lives.

Moreover, the point of my post was that recent experience has piled into a higher barrier to credibility for those declaring doom and gloom and decrying the mess made by that fundy wacko in the White House. That President Bush has patiently endured the myriad times he's been besieged by those who would knock him from office suggests that he's a leader who understands that war is unpredictable in scope, degree, and duration. Frankly, I think more Americans join him in that understanding than domestic reportage might lead us to believe.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:17 PM

August 12, 2004

Whispers of News to Come

Lane Core thinks some "BIG News" is on the media horizon. Noting expressions of regret for not having been more critical of the president's WMD case before the war in both the New York Times and the Washington Post, Lane writes:

Yep. I think they know something we don't know, Faithful Reader. And they're not telling us. And they're going to question/impugn/downplay the news whenever it comes out. And they're offering their excuses now, ahead of time.

We'll see. I intend to be deliberately skeptical about any revelations, although I've never written off their possibility as so many of my fellow citizens — even those who supported or still support the war — seem to have done. Nonetheless, it's worth noting that their positioning has left a large number of Americans with reason to react to any news that their country was right to be resolved amid naysayers with excuses why being right isn't always right... or something.

I suspect that most will simply flip their rhetoric and continue along as if it had never changed. Those who've committed themselves in print, though, don't have that option.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:18 PM | Comments (3)

July 1, 2004

The Common Knowledge Mudslide

The fight over the war in Iraq was — has been — so prolonged and so heated and so rife with accusations of all-out lies that even supporters of the effort can periodically be surprised to learn that a particular item is still in play. Although I'm a bit slow to note it, one example came to light the other day.

Apparently, it's still possible that not only are President Bush's defenders correct to point out that he was careful in his claims about Ba'athists' search for African uranium, but that perhaps even the most specific — much derided — claims of inquiries in Niger were correct. Of course, I could always be surprised in the other direction, but I have to admit that I'm pretty comfortable with how history will judge the war that I've spent so many words to encourage and defend.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:13 AM

June 21, 2004

What He Did to His Own, He Would Do to Us

Anybody who either 1) has doubts about the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime or 2) still believes Ted Kennedy and his ilk to be admirable should read Nick Schulz's description of and commentary about the short Ba'athist torture video:

I must confess that in recent weeks I had begun to harbor some doubts about a war I had supported. And I was not the only war supporter to begin second-guessing recently. We doubting Thomases had been perhaps most perplexed at President Bush, steadfast in the wake of mounting Coalition deaths, the Abu Ghraib scandal, and other bad news. Did this man not see what we were seeing?

There is no doubt that he had. But President Bush — along with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has also remained resolute despite withering and unfair criticism at home — had also seen things that we had not. Seeing this footage helps one better understand the mindset of President Bush and of his stalwart British ally and explains their resolve in the face of tremendous difficulties and setbacks. Seeing these films and ones like them out there, will, I believe, make any fence sitter shed his doubts about the appropriateness of destroying Saddam's regime. If anything, they make one wonder, almost shamefully, how and why it took the civilized world — or at least part of that world — as long as it did to rise up against it.

Although I haven't come across any examples, yet, I'm sure somebody, somewhere has already objected that this is yet another shifting of justification for the war. The strategy of those who opposed the war (and continue to oppose the Bush administration) is to pull apart all of the pieces of the other side's argument and prance around between them so as to obscure the fact that they can't conclusively knock down a single one. Just over a year ago, in an edition of my since-discontinued Just Thinking column, I wrote the following, which is still, surprisingly and sadly, applicable today:

Before the war, the administration's appeals to the human atrocities in Iraq were often dismissed as lip service. Even those who attributed some degree of sincerity to them tended to move discussion on with a "yeah but." Plenty of regimes abuse their people, the argument went, why attack Iraq? Now that the extent of those atrocities is being revealed in heart- and gut-wrenching detail, some post-war-anti-war advocates require reminding that President Bush mentioned the humanitarian crisis in every speech in which he made the case for war. He did so to illustrate the loathsome nature of the regime. He did so in the context of enumerating the many United Nations mandates at which Hussein had thumbed his nose. And he did so as a simple matter of moral principle, apart from international relations.

The atrocities are bad enough, Lord knows, to condemn the regime. But it was their combination with shadowy terrorist connections and proven ambitions to procure WMDs that made war a necessity — even in defiance of an international effort to maintain inside deals with the monster. A dictatorship that would order prisoners to have their hands hacked off a knuckle at a time is one that would gas one of its own villages is one that would work with terrorists to deliver blows to a hated nation of free people.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:14 AM | Comments (3)

June 11, 2004

Rather's Got It Right

Although John Hawkins disagrees with him about the appropriate amount of coverage devoted to Ronald Reagan, Dan Rather had one thing right:

"There is other news, like the reality of Iraq," said the "CBS Evening News" anchor. "It got very short shrift this weekend."

Consider something to which Drudge currently links, from the World Tribune's "breaking" section:

The United Nations has determined that Saddam Hussein shipped weapons of mass destruction components as well as medium-range ballistic missiles before, during and after the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 2003.

The UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission briefed the Security Council on new findings that could help trace the whereabouts of Saddam's missile and WMD program.

The briefing contained satellite photographs that demonstrated the speed with which Saddam dismantled his missile and WMD sites before and during the war. Council members were shown photographs of a ballistic missile site outside Baghdad in May 2003, and then saw a satellite image of the same location in February 2004, in which facilities had disappeared.

Apparently, both CBS and ABC so filled their space with Reagan news (and Rush's divorce as well as fire-safe cigarettes) that they didn't have room to mention this latest revelation.

As a comment to this post, Joe Marier asks the significant question, "Who the heck is the World Tribune?" Simply put, I don't know. Drudge has linked to the site before, and I was able to independently confirm their information, as I can this time. This post was meant primarily as a jibe at Dan Rather and Peter Jennings, however. Had I thought this to be truly significant information, it would have merited a post of its own.

The reality is that this particular item is yet another of those indications — mounting, to be sure — that are only suggestive of WMD activity. The information to which the World Tribune refers is part of UNMOVIC's quarterly report (PDF), and the document admits that "no official information was made available to UNMOVIC on either the work or the results of the investigations carried out in Iraq by the Iraq Survey Group, led by the United States of America, nor did the Survey Group request any information from UNMOVIC." Still, the report attempts to align what information is available to the public with its own investigations. Some items of interest:

... following a visit of IAEA to a scrapyard in Rotterdam [in the Netherlands] to investigate increased radiation readings, it was discovered, through photographs taken at the time, that engines of [Iraqi] SA-2 surface-to-air missiles were among the scrap... They are the type of engines used in the Al Samoud 2 proscribed missile programme. ... Company staff confirmed that other items made of stainless steel and other corrosion-resistant metal alloys bearing the inscription "Iraq" or "Baghdad" had been observed in shipments delivered from the Middle East since November 2003. ...

In addition, the Commission is aware from comparative analysis of recent satellite imagery that a number of sites previously known to have contained equipment and materials subject to monitoring have been either cleaned out or destroyed... It is not known whether such equipment and materials were still present at the sites during the time of coalition action in March and April of 2003. However, it is possible that some of the materials may have been removed from Iraq by looters of sites and sold as scrap.

The report goes on to describe Iraq's "procurement network that operated from 1999 to 2002, the period in which inspectors were absent" from the country. As has become frequently the case, much of the concrete information has to do with illegal missiles, rather than WMD, which primarily arise in the context of dual-use equipment. Regarding the images that the Tribune mentions, the document says, in an appendix:

While sites in Iraq were being monitored for updates through satellite imagery, it was detected that some sites subject to monitoring by UNMOVIC had been cleaned up and equipment and material had been removed from the sites... In other areas, whole buildings that had previously contained equipment and materials subject to monitoring had been completely dismantled.

And, indeed, a photograph from May 2003 shows about a dozen buildings that were completely gone by February 2004, leaving only marks on the ground where they had been. As I said, this is merely suggestive information, and various considerations mitigate or increase its implications. For example, depending on the building materials, moderately sophisticated looters could have taken the buildings down to sell as scrap, although that doesn't mean that the Ba'athists didn't use such activity as cover. On the other side of the balance, one must place the reality that UNMOVIC is an organization locked out of an investigation that continues work with which it had previously been charged, as well as the U.N.'s involvement in the Oil for Food scam.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:59 PM | Comments (1)

May 31, 2004

A Memorial Day for the Middle East

To close out this Memorial Day, here're some links that have been building up in my bookmarks file to the sort of information that the Internet has become so essential for providing.

Arthur Chrenkoff has compiled a second post of good news from Iraq. This tidbit, although relatively superficial, is doubly surprising:

And the actor Gary Sinise, who played Lt Dan in "Forest Gump" had this to say after visiting Iraqi hospitals: "I also saw a beautiful interaction between our Soldiers and the Iraqi children. The kids I saw on my second trip to Iraq with Wayne Newton in November 2003 were loving our Soldiers and were so grateful to them for having liberated them from Saddam Hussein. It was a tremendous feeling to see these children hugging and kissing our Soldiers, cheering them with the thumbs up sign and in broken English saying, 'I love you'... Good things are happening over there [Iraq]. On the nightly news it looks like all hell is breaking loose, but I know, from being over there, there's another side to the story."

Meanwhile, readers of solely the mainstream media likely believe the wedding-day bombing to be a closed case (and not in a good way). Belmont Club begs to differ, and has been tracking information as it's become available:

The AP video shows a dead band member almost without a facial mark, peaceful and almost resting. (The very popular Baghdad singer?) Was he the only one killed? If the bomb hit the musician's tent, as indicated by the debris of musical instruments, where are the other dead men? Was there a third structure attacked, the figurative 100 Syrian fighters 'down the road'? Or were there just the two structures?

Personally, I'm skeptical even of the dead band member.

For his part, John Hawkins offers a broader view in "George Bush's Wildly Successful War on Terrorism":

Despite what we hear daily from the "nattering nabobs of negativity" in our country, we should be proud of the magnificent job that George W. Bush, his administration, our troops, and our intelligence services have done fighting the war on terrorism. In perhaps the two most perfectly executed military campaigns ever waged on this earth, our troops smashed the Taliban and Saddam Hussein's regime, freeing 50 million people from tyrants who had made the lives of their people into a living hell.

Although some will surely object that the war in Iraq oughtn't be included in analysis about the progress in the War on Terror, WorldNetDaily suggests that such objections are increasingly less justified. Among other things:

Recently translated documents captured by U.S. forces provide new evidence of a direct link between Saddam Hussein's regime and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

Rosters of officers in Saddam's Fedayeen list Lt. Col. Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, who was present at the January 2000 al-Qaida "summit" in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at which the 9-11 attacks were planned, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Also less and less justified is the notion that Iraq ought to be placed in U.N. hands. James Lileks focuses on Europe:

If anyone thinks Europe is “three or four more times as democratic as America” he is living in a dream world. A world where Russia lectures us about treatment of Muslim detainees, France is a model of nation-building, the Patriot act muzzles the press, and China is deeply concerned about the sovereignty of conquered nations.

And while I'm linking around, I'll close with a column from a mainstream outlet, the Providence Journal — albeit, criticizing the mainstream media. Peter Brown calls for perspective among his peers:

My news-media colleagues are largely responsible. We rightly press for explanations about why things happened and how they could have been averted. But we also legitimize the mentality that it's okay to come down from high after the battle and shoot the wounded. We feel the need to make sure someone takes the fall, regardless of whether anyone would have done the same thing, or worse, in his or her shoes.

It's a sick game. ...

It's a loss of perspective because the situation highlights why Rumsfeld should stay in office. We won the war. The United States took the prisoners, not the other way around.

We won it quickly and with many fewer U.S. casualties than even the optimists had predicted, not to mention the doomsday scenarios of the pessimists -- many of the same people now wanting Rumsfeld to resign. Last time I checked, the prime responsibility of the secretary of defense is to make sure that the U.S. military wins wars.

How our military treats enemy prisoners, although worth considering, ranks far, far lower on that totem pole. And rightly so.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:27 PM

May 27, 2004

Tanked Thinking

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is getting quite a bit of attention for some analysis that Iraq is harming the War on Terror. In fact, whether or not he meant this particular study, Al Gore cited the "think tank" in his already infamous tirade. Reading the full summary of the report (PDF), however, one gets the impression of a glorified opinion column. Consider the section on WMD proliferation:

Washington's leverage over both Tehran and Pyongyang has eroded, as the US found itself pre-occupied with an increasingly desperate situation in Iraq and as the Bush Administration remained deeply divided over policies towards Iran and North Korea.

This brings to mind a recent quip from Ann Coulter that, for liberals, "history always begins this morning." Does anybody believe that Iran and North Korea would currently be more inclined to eschew their nuclear ambitions, the "underlying motivations" of which the IISS itself says are "more deep-seated" than Libya's, if the United States had backed down on Iraq?

In fact, one must look at these situations at a skewed angle in order to find even tepid diplomatic progress to be a setback. For its part, Iran is doing nothing that's not habitual among rogue regimes if its "commitment to the October agreement [to disclose past nuclear activities, accept stronger IAEA inspections, and suspend its fuel cycle program] has been suspect." North Korea has long provided an example of the dubious nature of such "commitments."

Especially regarding North Korea, the IISS criticizes the American administration for moving forward — and succeeding in large part — with a strategy that it has held for years: refusing to engage in unilateral talks with the dictator. The broader version of this point strikes me as simply odd; continuing from the previous quotation:

As a result, the US ceded diplomatic initiative to third parties: to China in the case of North Korea and to Europe in the case of Iran.

In context, this is presented as undesirable; I'm not sure why the IISS believes the United States shouldn't work with allies in its diplomacy. It would seem to me to increase the options (e.g., good cop/bad cop). Indeed, just two paragraphs before, in describing Libya — presented as casting its shadow on the "limited progress" in the other two countries — the IISS declares it to have been "a brilliant success for British diplomacy." Not surprisingly, there's no mention of the role that the invasion of Iraq played therein.

It appears that ambiguously successful multilateral strategies are the fault of the Bush administration, but that such strategies are to be credited to the other nations when they represent clear advances. For an encapsulation of the bias from which this standard ensues, consider this bit of casual, unexplored prognostication:

Increasingly, the Six Party Talks [involving North Korea] look like buying time until a new Administration takes office in Washington in January 2005.

I'm sure Iran, North Korea, and countless despots, terrorists, and corrupt bureaucrats are, indeed, anxiously hoping for that electoral outcome.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:08 PM | Comments (1)

May 26, 2004

Not in the Political Interest

John Derbyshire mentions a Wall Street Journal editorial. Explains Derb:

The main drift is, that the Bushies are so keen to hand off the whole shebang to the UN & get out, the admin is dancing to the UN tune... and the UN, or at any rate their man Lakhdar Brahimi, wants a Sunni strongman running the place. That shuts out Chalabi, who is (a) a Shia, and (b) a democrat. So Chalabi's gotta go.

I'm skeptical. Surely, I'm not alone — and am quite far from the teetering edge — as one for whom it would be much easier to find other things that are more important than voting come November if the administration is simply going to ignore all of the worrying festers of the U.N. and damn the people of Iraq to its whims.

This administration has done much to expose the corrosion of the United Nations, and I don't believe they'd hand control of Iraq over to it — even if the President is more cynical than I believe him to be.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:33 PM

May 24, 2004

1,001 Iraqian Nights

Most folks will recall that Scheherazade was the tale-telling heroine of the story that framed The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. To recap, Shahryar, a fictional king, marries a new wife each night, only to execute each the following morning. Eventually, Scheherazade, the daughter of the king's vizier, marries the king and keeps herself alive by telling a story per night, each halting at a cliff-hanger to be resolved the following evening.

Well, I confess that I chuckled to discover that (a previous version of) the AP report about the video of that Iraqi wedding that the United States allegedly bombed was written by one Scheherezade Faramarzi. With the Abu Ghraib story running out of steam, the wedding has emerged as the media's next means of darkening the public's impression of our military and the next tale to spin in its attempt to keep opinions about the Iraq war low enough to harm the President in November.

Writes the latter-day Scheherezade:

A videotape obtained by Associated Press Television News captures a wedding party that survivors say U.S. planes later attacked, killing up to 45 people. On Monday, the U.S. military showed photographs to support its own case that the target was a safehouse for foreign fighters.

The U.S. military says its investigation of the attack, which took place early Wednesday about five miles from the Syrian border, will try to reconcile the two different sets of images.

A certain Providence Journal blogger clearly has a firm opinion about which side to believe. ("It was possible for the military to deny this was a wedding until several hours of video shot by the hired wedding photographer... showed up.") For my part, I'm not so sure — and not just because my bias is to believe in our men and women in uniform.

This sort of production for the benefit of Western media wouldn't be without precedent in that region. (Remember the faked Palestinian funeral?) "Survivors" led the AP reporters to the site, and the reporters were able to identify "survivors" on the videotape of the wedding that supposedly preceded the bombing. Among the rubble, they found a piece of possible U.S. ordinance, which would be very easy to come by in Iraq, at this time. And a water tanker truck is visible in both the destruction video and the wedding video.

The more substantial, although not conclusive, evidence would be a match between the wedding band keyboard player and a corpse appearing in yet another video. But frankly, with respect for the dead and apologies if I'm wrong, I don't think it's the same guy (look at the noses).

I am, however, on the edge of my seat in anticipation of tomorrow night's tale.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:19 PM

May 23, 2004

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

I wonder what percentage of people in the United States and throughout the West aren't even aware that such a thing could even potentially be happening:

Over the last few months, the U.S. intelligence community has received new evidence a sizable amount of Iraqi WMD systems, components and platforms were transferred to Syria in the weeks leading up to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, reports Geostrategy-Direct, the global intelligence news service. ...

Through the use of satellites, electronic monitoring and human intelligence, the intelligence community has determined that much, if not all, of Iraq's biological and chemical weapons assets are being protected by Syria, with Iranian help, in the Bekaa Valley.

The Syrians received word from Saddam Hussein in late 2002 that the Iraqi WMD would be arriving and Syrian army engineering units began digging huge trenches in the Bekaa Valley.

Saddam paid more than $30 million in cash for Syria to build the pits, acquire the Iraqi WMD and conceal them.

At first, U.S. intelligence thought Iraqi WMD was stored in northern Syria. But in February 2003 a Syrian defector told U.S. intelligence the WMD was buried in or around three Syrian Air Force installations.

And I wonder what percentage, faced with irrefutable evidence, would simply declare it irrelevant.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:04 PM

May 20, 2004

Not Just a Flesh Wound

I've been meaning to link to a long but worth-reading post by Bryan Preston:

We all know what happened. But bin Laden had gone to school on us. He knew about our political hemophilia. Given time, and a wound in just the right place, we would bleed ourselves to death.

That's why I got worried. I suspected that al Qaeda knew what such a wound could do to us, and was either planning to inflict that wound or hoping we would inflict it on ourselves since it seemed that al Qaeda could no longer mount an attack us US soil. He knew that either way, he could count on US political forces arrayed against the Bush administration to do his heavy lifting once the wound had been inflicted. ...

What we have witnessed in the past week or so has been the bleeding from the Abu Ghraib wound. Al Qaeda got very lucky, because otherwise the war in Iraq was going fairly well for us. Violence had flared up in Iraq, but so had local elections--in which mullahs ran for office and lost to businessmen and doctors. A militia had sprung up to oppose us, but another militia had sprung up to oppose the first militia. We were showing patience and restraint, and applying force properly for the most part and avoiding civilian casualties. The Zarqawi memo told a story of inevitable allied victory and terrorist defeat.

And then Abu Ghraib. And our political opposition thinks it has a "silver bullet," our Senate all but handcuffs our intel operatives, the press goes wild with stories about US "atrocities" even while terrorists saw an innocent American's head off with a machete, and we flagellate ourselves into a stupor from which we may not recover.

The question becomes: do the Westerners loading their silver bullets understand what they are doing, or do they truly believe that dialogue and effacement convince the world's tyrants to just go away?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:54 PM | Comments (1)

I'm Really Sorry, but...

Jennifer Levitz's recent piece in the Providence Journal about local reactions to Abu Ghraib and Nick Berg's murder, particularly with respect to interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims, starts out well enough. However, it quickly moves through smirk-worthy to too-thickly laid:

At the mosque in North Smithfield, the largest of some six mosques in Rhode Island, Nasreen Ahmed desribes how she saw an American friend at the supermarket just after the pictures of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners were made public.

Ahmed says her friend cried, right there in the market. "She said, 'I'm so sorry,' " Ahmed says. Shd told her friend, "It's not your fault. I'm very sorry, too. I'm sorry things are getting so bad."

Even so, the piece, as something sure to appeal to local tastes, wouldn't have sparked comment from me were it not for the following:

Fadel Abu-Hilal, a bakery worker, describes those conversations on a break. He has a goatee, dimples, and a cell phone hooked to his belt. He is 25, and from Jordan. He is in Rhode Island to attend Johnson & Wales. He recalls how one of his professors apologized to him a few days after the prison abuse photos came out. Then, a regular customer came into the bakery and said he was sorry.

"He felt bad. He said it felt humiliating," Abu-Hilal says. He told his customer, "Listen, Jimmy, I know how you're feeling."

Abu-Hilal says he is empathetic to how American citizens might feel -- misjudged -- because he felt misjudged after Sept. 11.

Shortly after the terrorist attacks, for instance, he was doing an internship at the front desk of a hotel in Boston. He says that a customer asked him if he was Arab -- and when he said yes, laughed and told him not to put a bomb in her room.

Now, it is American officials who are telling the world not to judge the United States and democracy from the pictures out of Abu Ghraib.

"I'm not going to do what Americans did after 9-11, no offense," says Abu-Hilal. "I'm not going to blame this country."

To begin with, a college professor's apology to a Muslim student for abuse of prisoners from a different Arab nation than the student and incarcerated as part of a war that the professor likely doesn't support strikes me as masturbatory ego-stroking. One can picture the prof. literally patting himself on the back after class.

But then the dramatic parallel with how Abu-Hilal was treated after 9/11 — treatment for which he offers a single mild, if annoying, example — raises a question that I don't think he intends. Did he go around apologizing to Americans for 9/11? It may be that he's "not going to do what Americans did" after a global organization of well-supported Muslims murdered 3,000 of their countrymen, but did he do, then, what those Americans are doing now that a handful of soldiers abused some prisoners? What he goes on to say offers a clue:

Abu-Hilal condemns the beheading of Nick Berg, who was killed in what his captors said was revenge for the prison abuse. Yet, he was not surprised that terrorists lashed out.

"I'm not telling you it was the right way, but what do you expect? I'm not saying it was right."

After that, well, talk about having to restore America's credibility rings a bit hollow.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:24 PM

Christian Divisions in Iraq

One should take into account that Younadem Kana, an Assyrian Christian member of the Iraqi Governing Council, is the contemporary Iraqi equivalent of a politician. Still, Meghan Clyne's summary of some of the talking points from his tour of the United States is worth a read. Since the piece covers a lot of varied ground, quoting from it representatively would be redundant. However, this part caught my attention in particular:

"During Saddam's time," Kana says, "we were disrespected guests in our own home." The Baathist regime destroyed close to 200 villages and over 125 churches and historical monasteries in the region; it tried to impose Koranic law on Christian children; it employed a policy of Arabization toward the Assyrian community; it assassinated the leader of the Assyrian Christian church; it exiled and killed many in the Chaldean community. "They destroyed us and deported our people, without even giving them a chance," Kana notes.

In 1991, following his defeat in the first Iraq war, Saddam Hussein used religion to try to endear himself to the Islamic world. During this "faith campaign," symbolized by the addition of "Allah Akbar" (God is Great) to the Iraqi flag, Saddam closed down Christian businesses and shut Christians out of politics and positions of power. Unable to make a living for themselves, and weary of the persecution, many hundreds of thousands of Assyrians were forced to leave Iraq, fleeing to Europe, Australia, and the United States.

"Under Saddam's sectarian, apartheid policies, we were fifth-degree citizens," Kana explains. "First came the Sunnis, then the Shiites, then the Kurds, then the Turkomen, and we were fifth — unwelcome, even though we are Iraq's native people. This oppression was for nothing more than our Christian faith and our Assyrian ethnicity; we were allowed only to be Baath-party members, and to be Arabized."

Those paragraphs probably won't surprise many folks in America, but what makes them interesting is the mild difference from an Iraqi Catholic priest's comments:

The Christians are pleased that Saddam is gone, yet they felt safer under Saddam. This is because Saddam did not bother Christians so long as they kept to themselves. While this meant that Christians could not openly proselytize, it nonetheless allowed them to maintain churches and hold services without fear of government reprisal. Since Saddam's fall, however, Father Hermiz lamented that one church in Baghdad has been bombed, and the Christians are scared. His parishioners are concerned about the Shias, who they fear will not adhere to Saddam's "don't bother us, and we won't bother you" policy.

Various factors must be noted. Kana is a political man and has been actively fighting the Ba'athists for thirty-some years, while Father George Hermiz appears to have led a quietly charitable church, doing good where good could be done. Both of these approaches are necessary, and both will fit into a given area's politics and culture in different ways. It may be that the theology and group identities of the groups lend themselves to the particular roles that they've filled.

We shouldn't just acknowledge life's and Christianity's tapestry of distinctions and move on. The dichotomy is worth considering both to increase in empathy with those who approach life differently and to assess one's own inclinations. More immediately, though, and of more relevance for current events, is a potential lack of empathy on the ground in Iraq, about which Rod Dreher wrote in March 2003:

Incidentally, a reader who knows something about the Church situation in Iraq says that non-Chaldean Catholic Christians there have long viewed the Chaldean Catholics as collaborators with Saddam. The reader predicts that there is going to be hell to pay for the Chaldean Catholics after the fall of the Saddam regime, as other Iraqi Christians hold them accountable for their relationship to the dictator. The Vatican's strong objection to this war has been duly noted by non-Catholic Iraqi Christians, the reader says, and the post-war fallout from that is not going to be pretty.

Both Kana and Hermiz mention other sects in ways that suggest a tendency toward mutual inclusion as Christians in a Muslim land. But I do hope there's some more direct communication being pursued at all levels.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:35 PM

May 19, 2004

To Lead a Better Life, We Need U.S. to Be Here

In a comment to a post touching on reactions to Nick Berg's murder, Tim the European writes:

Imagine for a minute that you are an iraqi citizen. Before GWB started to make unproven claims that there were weapons of mass destruction in iraq, they lived under Saddam. Saddam wasn't a nice bloke, he did awful things to his own people, BUT most iraqis felt sort'a safe under his reign. Now here comes mr GWB, takes over Iraq in record breaking time. American soldiers were expecting to be welcomed as heroes, for saving the iraqis from this evil dictator.. And they were by most iraqis, cause finally iraqis could say what they want, they wouldn't have to worry about any innocent lives being lost anymore, no more familly being tortured, children finally getting a chance to be raised in a safe environment, or so they thought for a little while at least. But obviously the killing didn't stop, iraqis were still being wrongfully arrested, some of them tortured, or at least mal-treated, children and women are still getting killed. And in ADDITION to that, streets are less safe then they used to be, there's more gunfire and war going on in the country.. people WILL feel LESS safe than they used to. And that's all there is to it if you ask me. the image of being "safe and free" under american reign is fading quickly. With every woman or every child that gets shot by americans, another "terrorist" is created. The image of the americans has never been very good among most muslims, so if you are going to start a war in the middle of muslim territory as americans, you would have needed to be doing it cleaner and better than ever before. Obviously that is not the case. Personally i feel that this is a popularity contest the us army isn't going to win if they keep on going like they are doing now. From the iraqi point of view i can understand why they don't like americans too much, the situation didn't improve, that needs to change quickly, otherwise this whole war will be a lost cause.

Still trying to formulate a response to that, I came across two posts (one, two) on Instapundit that did some of the answering for me. One link in the second entry goes to Michael Graham (who doesn't appear to have direct links). Graham writes, about a cartoon in the Washington Post:

But if, as it appears, Toles is saying that the people of Iraq are victims of abuse as a people at the hands of President Bush, then Toles' cartoon is disgusting and outrageous.

The idea that Iraq today is suffering because of America's liberation is nonsensical unless you believe that, if Saddam were back in power, life in Iraq would be better. Is that how much these liberals hate George W. Bush?

Anybody who requires substantiation of Graham's assertion should set aside some time to explore Arthur Chrenkoff's must read roundup of good news from Iraq. The sense that we in the West are living in two contradictory realities is unshakeable, and I don't know that the gulf between them can be bridged for more than a few daringly objective people. I can't even understand Tim the European's transition toward his comment's conclusion:

Nick Berg's assasins had a reason for killing him. Do i respect that reason? Nope, not a chance. Do i understand the reason? Not really, but i can try to see it from their point of view. Would i kill these people if i had the chance? Nope i wouldn't, that wouldn't make me any better than these people at all. that simply would be forcing my beliefs onto them, which is wrong.

Is he saying he would not kill Nick Berg's murderers because doing so would impose his worldview on them? Strange view of death, that — like just another argument, a post-modernist "text." Oh the finality of the dialectic! Tim doesn't "respect" the terrorists' reasons for murder? No wonder such people can see sexually embarrassing prisoner abuse and excessive force in handling them as of greater magnitude than brutal head severing for a video. For those arguing over the meaning of "relativism" in the comments to a different post, here's your exhibit A.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:39 AM | Comments (3)

May 18, 2004

Slandering the Troops in Order to Defeat Them

Click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column if you'd prefer a simpler layout that you may find more readable.

In the presence of an embedded reporter, in March 2003, Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey, of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Weapons Company, mocked an Iraqi civilian who was trying to communicate with Marines:

They were just two farmers on their way across a familiar field to the nearby town to get gasoline for their vehicle, when suddenly they were on the ground surrounded by men in uniforms pointing weapons at their heads.

"Keep your head down," shouted Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey, 31, of Waynesville, N.C.

While they waited for interrogators to arrive, O'Neill showed one of the Iraqis pictures of enemy vehicles in a 500-plus-page manual. The man motioned that he didn't recognize any of the vehicles.

The men, who did not speak English, tried to communicate with their hands.

"What, you feel like break-dancing?" joked Massey. "Know any songs by Michael Jackson?"

A little more than a year later, Massey implied to the Associated Press that excessive 9/11 rhetoric might have contributed to the atmosphere that facilitated the Abu Ghraib abuses:

"Soldiers were encouraged to make the incorrect links," said Jimmy Massey, a former Marine sergeant from Waynesboro, N.C., who served in Iraq, then quit the force and has affiliated with an anti-war group called Veterans for Peace.

Massey said "a bunch of innocent civilians" were killed by his platoon and he attributed these deaths in part to military intelligence reports warning of potential terrorist attacks by non-uniformed Iraqis.

"You put a bunch of Army or Marines out in the desert and tell them to guard these supposed terrorists, and they're going to start inventing ways to keep themselves busy," Massey said.

In between these two press mentions, Massey lost his swagger in Iraq, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, received a discharge, and began decrying war crimes — first to French media, but increasingly in the United States. Suffice to say, it's been a rough, but exciting, year for Sgt. Massey, and thanks, in part, to left-wing blogs, the months to come look to be even more exciting.

The domestic buzz began with an interview that Massey gave to anti-war activist Paul Rockwell for the Sacramento Bee, and some of what he says therein is eerily familiar:

Q: What does the public need to know about your experiences as a Marine?

A: The cause of the Iraqi revolt against the American occupation. What they need to know is we killed a lot of innocent people.

The accounts that Massey relates aren't pleasant. "Trigger happy" American military personnel throwing the corpses of Iraqi civilians in a ditch. Orders from "senior government officials" to wipe out peaceful demonstrators. Marines firing on Iraqi motorists with their hands up at checkpoints. "Fallujah is just littered with civilian bodies." The 31-year-old sergeant told his commanding officer, "We're committing genocide."

According to a February 11 piece in the Waynesville Mountaineer, on April 15, 2003, one year to the day after he was pulled from his duty as a recruiter in North Carolina, Massey approached his commanding officer in Iraq confessing depression. The next stop was a visit to a Navy psychiatrist:

"You have every right to feel the way you feel," the doctor told him.

But did he, Massey wondered? Civilians might be sickened by the killing, but a Marine is not supposed to be. "I was the ultimate war machine, all blood and guts. I was embarrassed. I was supposed to be able to handle it." ...

In the morning Massey was called into the commanding officer's room. He was not cut out to be an officer in the Marines, the superior told him.

"He told me, 'You're a poor leader,' 'You're faking it,' 'You're a conscientious objector,' 'You're a wimp,'" said Massey. "You don't respond to that. You just stand there and take it. But my sanity was not worth the U.S. Marine Corps."

Massey spent the next six months or so in California, apparently sorting out his discharge, with a lawyer "who defended American soldiers after the Mai Lai attack in Vietnam." On November 14, he received the verdict that his would be "a medical retirement." Massey described the incident that precipitated this change, and threatened his sanity, in a French article put into circulation in early April. Translated in the Chronogram:

It was very warm that day, and Baghdad hadn't fallen completely. A red Kia Spectra sped toward our checkpoint at about 45 miles per hour. We fired a warning volley above it but the car kept coming. Then we aimed at the car and fired with full force. I made eye contact with the driver. The Kia came to a stop right in front of me, three of the four men shot dead, the fourth wounded and covered in blood. When he saw that his brother, the driver, was dead, he collapsed and fell to the curb, waving his arms frantically. And when we were pulling his brother out, he started running and screaming, 'Why did you kill my brother?! We didn't do anything!'

In that piece, by Natasha Saulnier, the accusations escalate. Regarding the desecrated contractors:

When I read about the mutilated, charred bodies of the Blackwater mercenaries in the news, all I thought was that we did the same thing to them. They would see us debase their dead all the time. We would be messing around with charred bodies, kicking them out of the vehicles and sticking cigarettes in their mouths.

Regarding operations with Task Force 121, including representatives of the Delta Forces, Navy Seals, and CIA Paramilitaries:

We would go into villages and stick C-4 explosives on the doors of supposed Saddam loyalists, and we would ransack their houses like the Gestapo. The Spooks would wait until we blew them up and secure the occupants inside, then they would go in. They never found anything except for large quantities of money. ... The Spooks would put [the occupants] on the floor and take over. We would leave and I don't know what happened to them but I heard from intelligence reports that some occupants were blown up.

Massey tells of firing on targets the nature of which only "higher headquarters" knew, and Massey didn't trust that the targets weren't civilians. Sprinkled throughout Saulnier's piece are supposedly corroborating accounts from other sources. An anonymous 23-year-old Marine tells of defecating on "run over dead Iraqi bodies." The same source asserts:

One day, I watched as the Marine Corps pushed the bodies of 47 Iraqis into a mass grave with a bulldozer. I don't know if they were civilians but they looked like it because some of them were wearing dress shoes like loafers. Our sergeant was looking for bombs with metal detectors. Then he went out on the bodies and picked them for jewels and money. He also took their IDs and sold them to Marines for trophies to show off when they’d come back to the us.

This slanderous tone is the building rumble. Saulnier quotes a rhyme of unclear origin — "Throw some candy in the school yard / watch the children gather round / Load a belt in your M-50 / mow them little bastards down!" — that appears to have inspired other French accounts, first translated on Islamonline.net:

Massey cited instructions of commanders disregarding lives of Iraq civilians as one of many reasons still driving him nuts.

"Throw candies in the school courtyard, and open fire on children rushing to snatch them. Crush them," he recalled officers as saying during drills.

Thus do the dark, libelous accusations of the anti-war Left from the days of Vietnam reappear. Instead of napalm, we get cluster bombs. Back to the interview with Rockwell:

Q: Cluster bombs are also controversial. U.N. commissions have called for a ban. Were you acquainted with cluster bombs?

A: I had one of my Marines in my battalion who lost his leg from an ICBM.

Q: What's an ICBM?

A: A multi-purpose cluster bomb.

Q: What happened?

A: He stepped on it. We didn't get to training about clusters until about a month before I left.

Q: What kind of training?

A: They told us what they looked like, and not to step on them.

Q: Were you in any areas where they were dropped?

A: Oh, yeah. They were everywhere.

Q: Dropped from the air?

A: From the air as well as artillery.

Q: Are they dropped far away from cities, or inside the cities?

A: They are used everywhere. Now if you talked to a Marine artillery officer, he would give you the runaround, the politically correct answer. But for an average grunt, they're everywhere.

Q: Including inside the towns and cities?

A: Yes, if you were going into a city, you knew there were going to be ICBMs.

Presumably, Massey means ICM (Improved Conventional Munitions), not ICBM (InterContinental Ballistic Missile),* but the point is clear: to raise visions of massacres and indiscriminate killing, simply ignoring claims and evidence of meticulous care to minimize casualties. Rockwell asks about the specter from the 1991 Gulf War, depleted uranium, and Massey includes it in his declaration of genocide to his commanding officer:

He asked me something and I said that with the killing of civilians and the depleted uranium we're leaving over here, we're not going to have to worry about terrorists. He didn't like that. He got up and stormed off. And I knew right then and there that my career was over. I was talking to my commanding officer.

In no previous article has Massey mentioned DU. Rockwell, on the other hand, included the matter in his document "U.S. War Crimes in Iraq: A Prima Facie Case," which he apparently "respectfully submitted to the International Criminal Court."

This is how the anti-war forces seek to defeat the U.S. military. Seeping from conspiratorial Web sites and foreign anti-American rags into the mainstream consciousness like leech-filled swamp water rising through the floor boards, the level of conceivability for accusations notches up as time goes on — as September 11 recedes and as the election approaches. Whatever their motivation, and whether or not they believe the sunny delusions about the world scene after an American defeat, those who enable, promote, and lend credibility to this propaganda assault must be faced and stared down this time around the historical cycle.

Our nation cannot afford to follow either John Kerry or any Generation X versions of the anti-war veteran. Jimmy Massey cannot escape the implications of what he is declaring to all the world by laying blame with the President based on clichés about war for oil and lies about weapons of mass destruction. And we who understand the importance of success cannot afford to keep our heads down.

* Thanks to Donald Sensing for suggesting the proper acronym.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:34 AM | Comments (63)

May 12, 2004

Evidence of Presumption

Lane Core is correct to suggest that the New York Times isn't likely to give much space over to arguments such as that which Laurie Mylroie espouses:

Opinion polls show that most Americans still believe Iraq had substantial ties to al Qaeda and even that it was involved in 9/11. Yet among the "elite," there is tremendous opposition to this notion. A simple explanation exists for this dichotomy. The public is not personally vested in this issue, but the elite certainly are.

America's leading lights, including those in government responsible for dealing with terrorism and with Iraq, made a mammoth blunder. They failed to recognize that starting with the first assault on New York's World Trade Center, Iraq was working with Islamic militants to attack the United States. This failure left the country vulnerable on September 11, 2001. Many of those who made this professional error cannot bring themselves to acknowledge it; perhaps, they cannot even recognize it. They mock whomever presents information tying Iraq to the 9/11 attacks; discredit that information; and assert there is "no evidence." What they do not do is discuss in a rational way the significance of the information that is presented.

In this piece, Mylroie relates new information confirming the meeting between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence in Prague. Therein, she mentions her testimony before the 9/11 Commission, which, as a ten-minute highlight of her work, is well worth a few moments of your time. Scroll down a bit, as well, for her contentious exchange with Richard Ben-Veniste. Of particular interest, considering Mylroie's thesis, is Ben-Veniste's repeated reference to the news media and stories that "occupy the front page of the newspaper on a daily basis."

It's also worth noting part of a response to Dr. Mylroie from another expert, Judith Yaphe:

Well, Dr. Mylroie's answer leaves me kind of breathless because I think she's doing exactly what troubles me the most about leaping to great conclusions, that Iraq -- that al Qaeda was a front for Iraqi intelligence. I'm sorry, I need evidence. If I'm -- if there is evidence, if we can get some material that says this, fine, but I don't see it now.

The question, among many of the questions, why would Saddam Hussein have given to a group like al Qaeda that he couldn't control, that that did pose a threat, an existential threat to him, why would he give them those weapons of mass destruction -- botulinum, chemicals, radioactive whatevers -- when he didn't want to admit he had them himself? Now, to give them to a group that fingerprints would have been easy to trace back, I would think. I don't see why he would do it. I don't think he sent them to Syria. I think he learned a great lesson in 1990 when he sent his aircraft off to Iran, never to be seen again. These are not things you share or give away, especially if you can't get them back, you can't control, and they won't do you greater danger.

This topic presents a tangle of seemingly conflicting reasoning, to be sure, but I agree with Mylroie that it's odd to choose, rather than attempt to unravel the various presumptions, to declare them insignificant. Yaphe wants proof that al Qaeda is a front for Iraqi intelligence, but she also professes incredulity that Iraq would hand off weapons to a rogue group. She notes that Hussein didn't want to admit to possessing weapons, but based on some supposed lesson learned, denies that he would export them during the approach to war.

She also steps around the most plausible reason to foster a relationship with terrorists as a delivery mechanism for WMDs, as opposed to conventional methods, which would be much more effective as a deterrent and threat: of all methods of attack, the "fingerprints" are least traceable within a shadowy organization drawing from various ideological groups around the world. My suspicion is that "front" is indeed a bit strong a term, considering the degree to which al Qaeda was a bin Laden cult of personality, but that Iraqi intelligence could very well have been intimately involved, behind a screen of false identities and intrigue, in the higher-level administration of the group, sufficiently to mitigate the risk of handing off dangerous weapons to it.

I'm not saying that I believe this, absolutely, to be the case. But for me, it would be little more than extra credit. Even Yaphe admits that the Ba'athists gave support to international terrorists, probably including training in terrorism techniques. Simply put, that is enough of a link for me — and, I should note, for a majority of Americans.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:40 PM

What Is There to Say?

What can one say about the murder of Nick Berg? Yes, it was horrible. Yes, the resulting headlines, furthering the terrorists' message are unforgivable and the censoring of the images is worthy of cynicism. But what about the whole thing isn't obvious?

The amazing thing is that the terrorists hope to gain by releasing that video. Five masked cowards attacking a man chained at their feet, with one idiot reading a prepared statement, are not apt to make Americans quiver. How much do you want to bet they hit Mr. Berg from behind when they nabbed him? All they did was to clarify our efforts against them. And no propagandist could have more effectively directed attention away from Abu Ghraib.

Prayers go out for Nick Berg and his family, as well as all of the other missing in Iraq and all of those helping the nation to rebuild. Their sacrifices and risks will not have been in vain.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:05 AM | Comments (6)

May 11, 2004

Thinking of Christians in Iraq

Robert Alt's anecdote about coming upon a Catholic church in Baghdad is interesting in many respects — an Iraqi's instant connection of "Amerikee" with "Me Christian" and local charitable work and interreligious experience, for examples. Two other distinct points are probably most significant in combination:

Since Saddam's fall, however, Father Hermiz lamented that one church in Baghdad has been bombed, and the Christians are scared. His parishioners are concerned about the Shias, who they fear will not adhere to Saddam's "don't bother us, and we won't bother you" policy. While Father Hermiz expressed fear about extremists like Muqtada al-Sadr weeks before the Mehdi Army clashed with American forces, he also expressed fear about the seemingly moderate Ayatollah Sistani and his followers. The priest asserted, "If [an] imam like Sistani says, 'Go and kill yourself,' they will do it without question." ...

The priest worried about the presidential race in America — emphasizing his concern that the United States might weaken its commitment to Iraq if President Bush were to lose in November. He therefore questioned me about Senator Kerry, what his Iraq policy would be, and what insights I had regarding the forthcoming election. Of course, Father Hermiz is not the only Iraqi who is following the presidential race. Muqtada al-Sadr has made it clear that he desires a change in leadership in the United States. Given Senator Kerry's reference to al-Sadr as a "legitimate voice in Iraq," perhaps we have finally found one of the many foreign leaders whose support Kerry previously touted, but chose not to name.

Just something for American Christians — Catholics especially — to keep in mind. In addition to facilitating the work of the abortion industry, John Kerry will almost definitely weaken our activities in Iraq, which could make a future Iraq such that visitors will be much less likely to hear the words, "Amerikee! Me Christian!"

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:46 PM | Comments (1)

May 5, 2004

A Quote to Run With

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, of Knight Ridder, is the latest to report on the intriguing story of the Thulfiqar Army ("Thul Fiqar al Battar" in this piece). Nelson gets us an inside view:

Since mid-April, Haidar and scores of other young men from Najaf have gathered nightly in the city's sprawling cemetery to attack members of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. Only a few gunmen are targeted each time to prevent big firefights that might injure civilians, said Haidar, who spoke with Knight Ridder on the condition that his last name not be used.

"If we capture them and they swear on the holy Quran they will leave Najaf and never come back, we let them go," the 20-year-old furniture maker said. "If they resist, they are killed." ...

Najaf businessmen, some of whom Haidar and others say are financing the resistance movement, say there's no choice but to fight back. Al-Sadr "is just a child and he's running everything," complained one shop owner, Mohammed Hassan, 45, who sells women's sundries in the main bazaar. "We haven't been able to get our goods from Baghdad since his men took over our city. They stop the trucks at checkpoints and steal everything." ...

Yet the young men have a major tactical advantage over Mahdi members, many of whom are from nearby Kufa, Baghdad or southern towns. Thul Fiqar fighters are hometown boys who know every inch of Najaf, including the hundreds of pathways in the cemetery, which is the largest Muslim burial ground in the world. This cemetery is where they've concentrated their attacks against al-Sadr's gunmen, who go there at night to monitor American troop movements in the distance.

This is the stuff of popular history books and movies. Me, I'd be happy if this quotation were the stuff of mainstream media coverage:

"The Americans made us happy when they got rid of Saddam Hussein," Haidar said. "We're happy to return the favor by getting rid of the Mahdi Army."

In a different world, that would be a headline.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:54 PM | Comments (1)

May 4, 2004

Getting Their Heads 'Round Right

Don't miss Deroy Murdock's latest on NRO. After pointing out some of the helpful things that Westerners are not doing in Iraq (because they've been killed while doing them), he writes:

Whatever Coalition soldiers and civilians could do differently (and some, as we now know have done things that deserve — and will result in — criminal punishment), remember this as smoke twirls like tornadoes above Iraq's streets: We are the good guys. Our enemies are the bad guys, and they are as bad as bad gets.

Iraqis who want what we offer — at a mundane minimum, the opportunity to eat freely in peace with lights on and toilets that flush — should decry those who toil to deny them even that. Decent Iraqis should identify these butchers to Coalition forces so they can be located and either arrested or shot. Only thus will Iraq stabilize itself before power flows from allied to Iraqi hands June 30.

One can understand the suspicion among Arabs. They haven't had much undistorted experience with folks who approach the world as we do in the West, and there are enough deluded people in our own ranks decrying our exaggerated or imagined iniquities to taint even the face that we put forward. Those people, on the other hand, have no excuse.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:07 PM | Comments (1)

May 3, 2004

The Thulfiqar Army: Linked to Iran or Soccer?

FYI for Instapundit readers: if you find this layout difficult to read, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.

Most readers following the blog world's surfing maneuvers on last week's wave of dourness from the mainstream media will have come across the Belmont Club's take on the supposed "retreat" from Fallujah:

Although the appearance of the Fallujah Protection Army (FPA) and its effects still remain to be seen, the mystery of it origins has been solved at last. It appears to be a creature of the Marines themselves, tricked out in Iraqi uniform. This would go a long way toward explaining the kind of training Marines were providing to Iraqis in southeastern industrial area of the city. They were training locals who will be assigned police duties. ...

If this interpretation proves to be accurate, it will have flowed directly from the basic operational requirements of Valiant Resolve. The goals of that operation would have been to root out enemy cells in Fallujah without massacring everyone in the city. This had to be accomplished against an active resistance schooled in the methods which brought the Russians to grief in Grozny. All with the final goal of wresting control of Fallujah from its gang leaders into the hands of an American-controlled Iraqi administration.

Yesterday, Belmont Club found some supporting evidence for the thesis (although nothing's conclusive yet, of course). As an afterthought, he mentions the Thulfiqar Army.

The what?

Instapundit readers will have come across that mysterious group's name by way of a piece by Colin Freeman in The Scotsman. The bulk of Western news-readers, however, would only have seen the name, at first, in the ninth paragraph (of twelve) of a John Burns article from the Tuesday New York Times:

In another development the Americans were watching, reports from inside Najaf said the growing anger of residents there against Mr. Sadr and his men, who have sown a pattern of lawlessness since their uprising in the city began this month, had taken a startling new turn, with a shadowy group killing at least five militiamen on Sunday and Monday.

Those reports, from residents who reached relatives in Baghdad by telephone, said the killers called themselves the Thulfiqar Army, after a two-bladed sword that Shiite tradition says was used by the patron saint of Shia, Imam Ali, the martyred son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. The group distributed leaflets in Najaf threatening to kill members of Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army unless they fled Najaf immediately, according to accounts.

One Najaf resident said some of Mr. Sadr's militiamen were shedding the black clothing that has been their signature. The same resident said that he knew of two killings of Mahdi Army members on Sunday and that three others had been killed later on Sunday or Monday.

Burns mentioned the group again on Wednesday, in the second half of paragraph ten, as a tangential explanation for the clothes on some Mahdi corpses. Although some other papers picked up Burns's pieces, I spent the weekend amazed that this story wasn't getting more play. Being as objective as I'm able, it seems to me that this Thulfiqar Army is news — intriguing news. Perhaps Time magazine's just-released 550 words on the subject, by Hassan Fattah and Meitham Jasim, mark the first wisp of mainstream interest, rather than the last gasp:

Plenty of people have an interest in seeing al-Sadr and his ragtag army cut down. The cleric has little widespread support among mainstream Shi'ites. But al-Sadr's rise has alarmed senior Shi'ite clerics, who view him as an upstart demagogue. Al-Sadr's troops have regularly clashed with the more powerful Shi'ite militia known as the Badr Brigade. Grand Ayatullah Ali Husaini Sistani, the most prominent Shi'ite leader in Iraq, has ordered all Shi'ite factions to avoid further confrontation with al-Sadr's men, fearing it would lead to fratricidal Shi'ite violence, but, Iraqi intelligence sources say, Thulfiqar could be a splinter faction of the Badr Brigade working independently. Those sources think Thulfiqar may also be receiving support from Iran's intelligence services, which may fear that al-Sadr's anti-U.S. militancy could jeopardize the expected establishment of a Shi'ite-dominated government.

The introduction of Iran's intelligence services to the plot would be interesting, indeed, with much broader implications for the entire region. In early April, Rowan Scarborough reported in the Washington Times that Iran was supporting al-Sadr:

The United States suspects that his goal is to create a hard-line Shi'ite regime in Iraq modeled after Tehran's government. Military sources said Sheik al-Sadr is being aided directly by Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which plays a large role in running that country, and by Hezbollah, an Iranian-created terrorist group based in Lebanon.

One of the sources said these two organizations are supplying the cleric with money, spiritual support and possibly weapons. "Iran does not want a success in Iraq," the source said.

"A democratic Iraq is a death knell to the mullahs." Sheik al-Sadr upped the ante during the weekend by calling for his 3,000-strong militia, the Army of the Mahdi, to begin attacking coalition forces. His fiery words touched off attacks throughout southern Iraq.

Cox & Forkum even drew a great cartoon to that effect, providing multiple quotes and links, suggesting that Iran is pulling al-Sadr's strings.

I'm sure there are plenty of people with ideological, strategic, and other interests in leaving these threads undisturbed. But they're there, perhaps leading toward something that Sean-Paul Kelley wrote on April 11:

The lines are very clear in Iran. The conservatives like very much to use Muqtada al-Sadr for their own interests in Iraq while Khatami and Muntazeri are absolutely against it. The moderate forces in Iran and Iraq wisely consider the radicalism of Muqtada Sadr as a threat to the establishment of a viable democracy in that country. The bitterness of the radical phase of the Iranian experience is shared by both sides.

Or perhaps the Thulfiqar threads align more directly with a story that Patrick Belton passes along:

[The Al Dura Sports Complex] is the result of neighborhood District Advisory Council (DAC) leaders working together with the US Army First Cavalry Division to determine a project which would most help the area.

... Councilman Saba' Radhi Zubun said, "This will benefit many families in my district. For example, 60 soccer teams will play here in a tournament soon. And there are five schools with over 1,000 children each who can use this facility."

The children liked it as well. A twelve year old named Jafa said, "This is a very good idea. I play soccer, and my brother is on the field right now playing for the Iraqi Police Service team." His friend Mustafa added, "Thank you, American Army!" A soccer game was played between the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) and the Iraqi Police Service (IPS). IPS was victorious by a score of 2 to 0.

Either way, it would be worth some coverage, wouldn't you say? Given a little attention, the group would make for a great detail in one of those shaded boxes — meant to encapsulate events and spur student interest — in future text books... depending on the story historians wish to tell.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:04 PM | Comments (1)

April 30, 2004

And then There's the News Department

Was Jennifer Levitz able to find no one to offer a contrasting view for her Providence Journal article, "Doubts about the war hit home"? It wouldn't even have had to be somebody local; after all, she devoted 208 words to Virginia anti-war protester Larry Syverson.

It wouldn't be appropriate to fault grieving or just worried families for their sentiments, and Levitz only quotes some of those in the article regarding other people's reactions. But there's a growing storyline in the mainstream press:

The doubts about the Bush administration's steering of the war in Iraq are rising, according to experts who study public opinion, as April ends with the highest number of U.S. casualties in a month. Tomorrow marks one year since President Bush stood on an aircraft carrier and declared the mission accomplished. ...

People in the United States are making up their minds on how they view the war in Iraq, she said yesterday in an interview. ...

Americans are comparing those wartime sights with what they are hearing from the administration -- that the electricity is back in Iraq, and schools are open, and that only small parts of the country are unstable. ...

[Kathleen Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania] said that when the public starts asking itself these questions, "you have the potential" for an attitude shift.

A little research would show that the media has been proclaiming shifts in attitudes and doubts about the war all along, but frankly, the whole thing is too nauseating to investigate in depth. Levitz's entire piece offers not a single statement from anybody — family or "expert," local or national — declaring pride and the understanding that the job must be finished.

By way of contrast, in John Mulligan's "Historians, soldiers hesitant to call Iraq another Vietnam," we get this:

WHEN CRITICS of the war look at these problems, they see shades of Vietnam: a misplaced American confidence in its economic and military might and a refusal to take into account the cultural and political realities of a foreign country.

Further, the war's critics find echoes of Vietnam in the Bush administration's changing emphasis in its rationale for war. Before the invasion, Mr. Bush and his team stressed the "gathering" threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and links to international terrorism.

Since the post-invasion failure to turn up evidence of such weapons, Mr. Bush has stressed the promise that Iraq holds "to change the world and make America more secure" by becoming a beacon of democracy.

"WE'RE FACING a quagmire in Iraq, just as we faced a quagmire in Vietnam," Kennedy said in a television interview after his April 5 speech. "We didn't understand what we were getting ourselves into in Vietnam. We didn't understand what we were doing in Iraq. We had misrepresentations about what we were able to do militarily in Vietnam. I think we are finding that out in Iraq as well. . . .

Suggestions that Iraq and Vietnam don't equate get a "but still"; statements that Americans are anxious about war (as well they should be) get unwavering reinforcement. We can only hope that Americans don't allow the media's assessment to be self-fulfilling spin. Every loss is lamentable. Every casualty is deserving of prayers and tears. But we cannot afford to forget that each one saves unknowable masses in the future... if we hold strong.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:01 PM | Comments (2)

April 28, 2004

Naw. No News Here.

Let's see. WMDs? Check. Terrorists? Check. Afghanistan? Check. Iraq? Check. Coverage? Well...

At least one of the al-Qaida plotters arrested in Jordan earlier this month as part of a weapons of mass destruction plot that Jordanian officials say could have killed 80,000 people revealed on Monday that he was trained in Iraq before the U.S. invaded in March 2003.

In a confession broadcast on Jordanian television, the unnamed WMD conspirator revealed: "In Iraq, I started training in explosives and poisons. I gave my complete obedience to [Abu Musab al] Zarqawi," the al-Qaida WMD specialist whose base of operations was in Iraq.

Excerpts from the WMD conspirator's confession broadcast by ABC's "Nightline" late Monday show that the WMD plot was planned and trained for in Iraq more than a year before the U.S. invasion, with the terror suspect admitting, "After the fall of Afghanistan, I met Zarqawi again in Iraq."

I guess the papers had to leave room for that poll.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:49 PM

April 23, 2004

Airlifted to Where?

Wondering why the media seems more inclined to remember Vietnam than 9/11, Patrick Sweeney asks:

al Qaeda has not been crushed. If we think this is Vietnam, then when the last building in New York or Washington is encircled by terrorists as the American embassy was encircled in Saigon -- where are WE going to fly off to in the helicopter?

It's a good question. Although it's not universally applicable, I can't shake the feeling that many in the media and a large segment of the population just refuse to believe that terrorists could strike again. Sometimes it seems they don't really believe that they've struck before.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:54 PM

April 19, 2004

WMD: Only a Story in Absence

As Jeff Miller suggests, it's curious that this isn't a major news item:

Two members of an al-Qaida cell connected to top terror master Abu Musab al-Zarqawi have been caught in Jordan with chemical weapons and poisonous gas for a planned attack that Jordanian officials say would have killed up to 20,000 people.

Dan Darling, who's become quite an expert on this general area of current events, agrees that this might merit just a wee bit more attention, noting the worrying size of the plan. However, while delving further into the various questions raised, Dan says that there is only a "remote chance that this could turn out to be Iraqi in origin."

A difficulty exists, with these discussions, because different people demand different degrees of connection before they'll admit a link (if they'd admit one under any circumstances). I'm confident that Dan takes a similar view to mine of the reasonable burdens of proof and the justifiable actions based on what evidence is available. However, I note his doubts because upon searching my blog for Zarqawi's name, I came across this quotation from the Washington Post from last February:

The CIA chief also repeated many of Secretary of State Colin Powell's statements last week to the United Nations regarding Iraq's efforts to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and linking al-Qaida supporters to the Iraqi government. Tenet said the key link between Baghdad and al-Qaida is Abu Musab Zarqawi, a senior associate of bin Laden.

It's interesting how all of the various controversies roil around and around within the space created by the media's ambivalence. You might recall that Zarqawi's name also made an appearance when the press was trying to tar Vice President Cheney for declaring a link between Iraq and September 11.

One can't help but wonder how differently the War on Terror might be going if the media were as objective as it claims to be.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:39 PM

April 14, 2004

Using Their Hate Against Them

Christopher Johnson points out another example of something that I'm approaching with a deliberately wary eye:

[The Passion of the Christ] has sparked hours of discussion between Christians and Muslims regarding questions of faith. Many Arabs were interested in seeing the film only because of the anti-Semitic controversy surrounding it. However the movie's theme is an unavoidable subject. "The message of loving your enemies and Jesus who, even while up on the cross, prayed for and forgave them strikes all viewers deeply," said two Americans working in Qatar.

The American couple said they were amazed the government had permitted the film to be released in an Islamic country like Qatar. "In the next few weeks tens of thousands of people living here will go and see this powerful retelling of Christ's suffering and death. Many moviegoers react to the film. For example, those sitting next to us in the theater were moved and breathless. Others wept or had looks of disgust on their facers when watching the brutality Jesus underwent," they said.

The examples are starting to add up, though.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:35 PM

April 12, 2004

Beyond Iraq's Borders

Perusing Dan Darling's rundown of events and revelations having to do with the War on Terror brings home the folly of restricting one's view of John Kerry's national defense viability to his (ostensible) ability to move forward with nationbuilding. Bold moves will very likely prove necessary against other nations in the Middle East, as well as outside of it, and Kerry simply will not have the standing to make those moves.

The broader view also helps to put the war in Iraq back in a context that was obscured during the buildup and aftermath phases of the related politics. Does it affect Just War judgments if Iraq was a battle and not the war? It ought to, although each battle against a distinct enemy requires its own justification, of course.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:10 PM

April 2, 2004

Describing Our Armchairs

Dan Darling takes a step back from the wrangling over terrorism to remind us of the limited perspective that we, as interested citizens, actually have. The following point isn't an adequate summary of the post, but it struck me as important to remember:

One of the tendencies that I've noticed within counterterrorism circles is that in many cases people want to reduce the al-Qaeda threat down to single nexus or pivot that would be utterly devastating if not fatal to the group were it removed. For Mylroie that pivot seems to be Iraq, for Ledeen and others it's Iran, for the SAAG folks it's Pakistan, and for many more people it's bin Laden or al-Zawahiri. Some want to go even further and say that the central pivot is Islam itself, but they don't get too much attention and probably thankfully so.

My own view is that bin Laden deliberately set al-Qaeda up in such a fashion so that there wouldn't be any Achilles Heel that would cripple the group were it ever removed. I've noted this before and I'll say it again - bin Laden was a businessman long before he was ever a terrorist and that the organization he created resembles a giant multi-national corporation more than it does anything else, which is one of the reasons why it's so damned hard to kill.

There aren't many exceptions to the general rule that we all come out swinging in these debates, and often we get so tangled up in our arguments that we lose sight of the fact that our method of thinking and of debate requires the partitioning of reality into addressable segments. That — it should be needless to say (but isn't) — is never an adequate approach to forming broader opinions.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:10 PM

March 31, 2004

The Mogadishu Strategy Can't Be Allowed to Work

The pictures of those Fallujahideen savages in Iraq evoked such an emotion that holding comment seemed prudent. (For one thing, I've the presence of mind to note that, by "savages," I mean to indicate only the specific people involved.) How we should react officially is complicated. Above all, we cannot retreat. However, we don't want to respond such that deprivations push fence-sitters and otherwise malleable Iraqis toward the scumbags.

Dan Darling offers a reasonable suggestion:

Might I suggest that Fallujah be cordoned off immediately, strict curfews imposed, and house-to-house searches instituted after 24 hour weapons amnesty, after which time anyone found to be possessing such weapons be promptly arrested. Then announce that any planned improvements or reconstruction efforts to the town will be indefinitely suspended and those resources redirected to communities whose populations are more supportive of the coalition's efforts. Offer a $2,000 reward for the perpetrators and make it quite clear to the general populace that the only thing they're going to get is food until they cough up the perpetrators.

He goes on to suggest hanging the perpetrators from the same bridge as they hung the American citizens. That, I'd say, goes a bit far. We want to present a clear difference in choices between ourselves and the return of the Ba'athists. But it might present some worthwhile symbolism to hang something there... a sign, an effigy of Saddam, or something.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:44 PM

March 22, 2004

Then Where'd It Come From?

Craig Henry has taken a look at his pre-war assessment of the argument for war, and he writes something that strikes a chord with me:

The case for war did not argue that Saddam's WMDs were an "imminent threat" or that he was involved in the 9-11 attacks. Instead, it argued that he was trying to get WMDs, that containment/sanctions/deterrence were beset with problems of their own, and that waiting was worse than acting. Nothing i've read in the past year refutes that assessment.

I don't think I ever got around to writing a similar post, so my arguments and proof of what I thought the arguments to be are scattered over months of posts here and comments elsewhere. However, I remember people arguing against the war by saying that the threat wasn't imminent, and I remember responding that the central argument for war at that time was that we could never know when it was imminent. In fact, as I recall, a paleocon commenter on Mark Shea's blog tried to phrase the argument in terms of stockpiles, and I replied that, although that would certainly make the war even more immediately necessary, it wasn't what made it necessary to begin with.

I'm aware that some will just hold a mirror up to this comment to reflect it back to me. However, I have to say that it's one thing to read long-ago history revised, but another thing altogether to live through the metamorphosis. It's not this issue alone that frustrates credulity thus.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:29 PM

March 9, 2004

But Keep Those Trains on Time

Lileks ends his current Bleat with a must-quote passage (the internal quotation, in italics, is John Kerry):

When I was in the region in early 2002, I saw first hand the devastating impact of this ongoing conflict on the daily lives of both Palestinians and Israelis. In Ramallah, for example, Palestinian women, traveling on foot, were forced to stand in long lines at check points with their children tugging at their sleeves and their arms loaded with groceries or other basic needs. And while they were struggling to get through the day, Israelis were also living in fear of another terrorist attack – not sure whether to get on a bus or go to a restaurant.

I'll give him credit for the order in which he presents these seemingly equal inconveniences. But note how the first example is described with sympathetic human details — children, tugging at sleeves! — but the fear of getting nails shot through your vitals on a bus is described in an abstract, generic fashion.

The speech was made on October 17, two weeks after a suicide bomber in Haifa killed 21 people in an Arab-Jewish owned restaurant; three kids and a baby were among the dead, and the wounded numbered 60.

It seems the inclination toward equivalence, here, arguably relates to the liberal view of life and government's role in it. Watch out grocery-store clerks!

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:03 PM

February 20, 2004

Two Realities Regarding the Middle East

I can't recall where it was, but after Michael Ledeen told the story of his conveying a source in Iraq to the CIA to investigate some uranium — an opportunity that the CIA never took — somebody, probably many people, merely scoffed. Right, they suggested, the CIA is ignoring the secret sources of journalists for no reason whatsoever.


And we may see them with atomic bombs. Oddly, just as the foreign minister was announcing Iran's intention to sell enriched uranium to interested parties — thereby spitting in the eye of the French, German, and English diplomats who sang love songs to themselves just a few short months ago, proclaiming they had negotiated an end to the Iranian nuclear program — two smugglers were arrested in Iraq, near Mosul, with what an Iraqi general described as a barrel of uranium. Here is what General Hikmat Mahmoud Mohammed had to say about the event: "This material is in the category of weapons of mass destruction, which is why the investigation is secret. The two suspects were transferred to American forces, who are in charge of the inquiry."

Compulsive readers of these little essays may remember that, late last summer, I told CIA that I had been informed of a supply of enriched uranium in Iraq, some of which had been carried to Iran a few years ago. I had offered to put CIA in touch with the original couriers, who said they would take American inspectors to the site, but CIA could not be bothered to go look.

I am told that the uranium in the barrel near Mosul came from the same secret laboratory. Perhaps now the CIA will think better of my sources, and work harder to find these materials.

Of course, this is Ledeen, again, and if you thought him a liar before, you'll see no reason to change your mind. On the other hand, if you believed him before, you've got reason to ratchet up your concern once again, as we watch, helpless, the scenes unfold with a frightening inevitability.

We've got two major strains of belief about reality, in this country. Unfortunately, when the discrepancy resolves, it's sure to be through calamity.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:31 AM

January 31, 2004

The People Affected by War

Victor Morton has posted a heartfelt letter by a man who has been acutely harmed by President Bush's aggressive foreign policy.

Nonetheless, I hope he doesn't have recourse to the American judicial system.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:28 PM | Comments (1)

January 29, 2004

Add Conventional Wisdom to the Fire

Remember when I expressed my desire for somebody to investigate what David Kay meant by his suggestion that Iraq was more dangerous than we'd thought before the war? Well, some guy named Justin Katz has done some of that investigating in a piece on TechCentralStation.

I don't know whether it's an effect of the media's biased conventional wisdom or what, but I've been surprised at the degree to which some have conceded a new political reality in response to the errors that Kay has suggested. Maybe it's because I supported the toppling of Hussein on humanitarian grounds long before the debate began in earnest, or maybe it's that I always considered any WMDs in his hands to be too many, but it seems to me that anybody who based their support for the war, tentatively or not, on some of the larger stockpile estimates understood neither the argument for war, nor the nature of WMDs, nor the nature of intelligence work. As I argue on TCS, even proof of programs and short-term potential to produce is sufficient justification, because 1) we couldn't maintain sanctions forever, and 2) we just couldn't know whether those programs were implemented to produce.

Even now, and even granting every one of Kay's assessments, remembering the dictator around whom these events took place ought to make any reasonable person wary of declaring the war's premises false. Craig Henry wonders what would have happened to con-artist scientists if Saddam demanded a demonstration. At the very least, it would seem likely that they'd have held some not-insignificant amount of substances.

More fundamentally, we in the public sector ought still to be a bit more circumspect about the information as it filters to us. Indiana University Professor Eric Rasmusen has done some analysis of the likelihood of Kay's claim, with due consideration to the inspector's self interest.

Look, for some reason that I can't fully articulate, I trust Mr. Kay, who seems like a uniquely even-handed government player. He's been pretty open about the limitations of his claims. Nonetheless, unless those claims are restricted to an absense of major production on a nearly industrial scale, the situation in Iraq during the '90s will certainly be an intriguing chapter in the history books — more incredible than fiction. Perhaps the C.I.A. ought to employ Tom Clancy.

Colin Powell, in his U.N. presentation, told of Iraq's removing topsoil to hide chemical weapons activity that was performed there. Remember Steven Hatfill? He was one guy under intense scrutiny, and the FBI searched his apartment — which, as I understand, is much smaller than Iraq — multiple times before believing that it was clean. At one point, the theory was that he built a custom box in order to produce anthrax under water!

Are all of Iraq's scuba suits accounted for?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:24 AM

January 26, 2004

"We led this search to find the truth, not to find the weapons."

Since Glenn Reynolds has paid me the compliment of linking to this post, bringing hoards of people here for the first time, I thought I'd note that, if you find that the page design makes for difficult reading, you can click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column for a lighter layout that will scroll with the text.

Glenn Reynolds notes Bryan Preston's efforts to make sense of what appear to be contradictory statements by ex-weapons inspector David Kay.

Kay told the Telegraph that some materials — not stockpiles, but perhaps substances and "some components of Saddam's WMD programme" — likely made their way to Syria. On the other hand, AP writer Scott Lindlaw summarizes David Kay speaking to NPR as follows:

U.S. intelligence agencies need to explain why their research indicated Iraq possessed banned weapons before the American-led invasion, says the outgoing top U.S. inspector, who now believes Saddam Hussein had no such arms.

"I don't think they exist," David Kay said Sunday. "The fact that we found so far the weapons do not exist - we've got to deal with that difference and understand why."

What initially struck me was that Kay's statement is in the present tense, while Lindlaw's characterization is in the past tense. Having listened to the actual NPR interview, by Liane Hansen, from which the AP article draws, I think it equally significant that Lindlaw emphasizes "no such arms." Kay is, here, talking about stockpiles, which is a term that he uses deliberately throughout the interview with reference to the lack of evidence:

One has to be cautious in this regard. Because of the breakdown in social and political order at the end of the war and rioting and looting continued unchecked for at least two months, we're going to be left with ambiguity as to what we've found.

My summary view based on what I've seen is that we are very unlikely to find large stockpiles of weapons. I don't think they exist. But that's my personal view based on the evidence as of when I left. The search is going to go on, and indeed, one shouldn't be surprised in Iraq by surprises. You continue to be surprised by what you find. I personally think we're going to find program activities, and some of them are quite substantial, as in the missile area. We're not going to find large stockpiles.

Of course, one could spin this to say that Kay probably believes that the weapons could have been there but have been moved, perhaps to Syria. Unfortunately, that's not the picture that Kay paints in totality. What he's saying is that Iraq clearly had weapons programs, some of which could have been made to bear fruit on short order, but that after the first Gulf War, Iraq did not engage in large-scale production of WMDs. Again, he emphasizes the scale that he is ruling out, and it's important to remember that most (if not all) previous claims of certainty had to do with stockpiles produced before the first war.

I've argued before that we who supported the war have no reason to back down if programs turn out to be all that can be proven, and they've already been proven. As for weapons, when asked why his statements differ somewhat from those of Vice President Cheney, Kay emphasizes that ambiguity will always exist:

I think we're both looking at what is an enigma from slightly different positions. Based on what I've seen there, my conclusion is they had not resumed large-scale production. There is uncertainty; that's one of the reasons it's important that inspections continue, and I look forward to Charlie Duelfur, who I know well and have a great deal of respect for, leading those inspections now so that we can come to a consensus view. My warning to the American public though is that there is always going to be some ambiguity here. The failure to establish security at the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, allowing the looting to continue, meant the records had been destroyed and had been destroyed forever and can't be put back together again.

More than that, he suggests that, focusing on the WMD component of the argument, the President and the nation as a whole were justified in going to war on the basis of the information that was available. His admonition is that we must understand why our intelligence failed in order to fix it:

I actually think the intelligence community owes the President [an explanation], rather than the President owing the American people. We have to remember that this view of Iraq was held during the Clinton administration and didn't change in the Bush administration. It is not a political "got you" issue; it is a serious issue of how you could come to a conclusion that is not matched by the future. It's not unusual — I remind you — as you well know, at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the intelligence estimate was that there were no nuclear weapons in Cuba. We learned only afterwards, and as former Secretary of Defense McNamara said in the recent movie, The Fog of War, two societies came within seconds of destroying each other based on a misperception of what reality was. Often estimates are different than reality. The important thing is when they differ to understand why. This is not a political issue. It's a fundamental issue of national security.

And here's where Ms. Hansen drops the ball completely as a journalist. Having stated that he believes it was reasonable, before the war, to characterize the threat as imminent, Kay offers this intriguing statement:

I must say, I actually think what we learned during the inspections made Iraq a more dangerous place potentially than in fact we thought it was even before the war.

You can listen for yourself (it's at 11:50 in the streaming audio), but to my ear, Ms. Hansen's stutter and redirect back to "imminent" have the sound of a woman ushering one boyfriend out of a room in which another hides. What that stutter indicates — symbolizes — is that the ambiguity is certain to be exacerbated, even nourished, by the media, as the primary source is skewed and all subsequent coverage pushes the story closer and closer to what the reporters want it to be.

That, at least, is not surprising. But I'd sure like somebody to investigate what Kay meant.

One thing that gave me a chuckle. Asked about the possibility of writing a book, Kay once again emphasized that it would be about the intelligence issues that he believes to be so important. Then he said, "I'm not doing a Paul O'Neill."

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:24 PM | Comments (14)

January 20, 2004

Spoils of War

Michael Williams notes that billions of Saddam's dollars found their way to Syria and says:

That money rightfully belongs to the American people, and should be immediately claimed as spoils of war and used to pay Halliburton to develop Iraq's oil fields and build a giant pipeline to Texas through the center of the earth.

Wonder how many people out there wouldn't realize that Michael's kidding — probably about the same number who thought Dean's defeat speech erudite and inspiring.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:51 PM | Comments (1)